Sports Source: No good time to leave

1/11/2013

Jeff Tatum resigned Thursday as the head football coach at Garden City Community College, with today being the effective day of his resignation.

Jeff Tatum resigned Thursday as the head football coach at Garden City Community College, with today being the effective day of his resignation.

Tatum, a native of Alabama and with deep roots in the heart of Mississippi, will be introduced as the new coach at Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead, Miss.

It's where Tatum played quarterback for the Trojans. It's where he cut his coaching teeth in the late 1980s before heading off to Milledgeville, Ga., where he was on the staff at Georgia Military College.

At each of those stops, Tatum was a part of staffs that led the respective programs to NJCAA national championships — Mississippi Delta in 1993 and GMC in 2001.

It's been just a little more than 25 months since Tatum was announced as the Broncbusters' football coach, with the hopes of resurrecting a once-powerful program that had been moribund for several seasons.

During his brief stint in Garden City, Tatum has done just that.

It wasn't really apparent in 2011, when Tatum's first team went just 2-7, but the foundation was being laid for what eventually transpired in the just recently-completed 2012 season that saw the Busters finish 7-4, win the Mississippi Bowl on a last-second field goal and bring the GCCC program back to respectability.

That's not to say that Tatum's job was completed — certainly not. A fourth-place finish in the Jayhawk Conference is not where GCCC President Herbert Swender wants to be. He's made that abundantly clear on several occasions.

But what Tatum did accomplish is that he brought back an element of excitement and hope for the future.

One only has to look at how many Busters are moving on to NCAA Division I schools to know the imprint that Tatum has left. Wide receiver Rob Coleman will be headed to the University of Kansas; defensive back Riyahd Jones signed with the University of Tennessee; defensive end/linebacker Keith Curran is off to Lamar University in Texas; Deilouse Jackson signed with Tennessee-Martin; and Kitray Solomon inked with Southern Illinois.

Quarterback Nick Marshall, a Georgia native, has yet to make a decision, and the Feb. 6 signing day for both NCAA and NJCAA schools is just a mere 26 days away.

It had been several seasons since that many Broncbusters were getting courted by Division I schools. Back in the GCCC football heyday of the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, it was routine to have as many as a dozen sophomores headed off to the big schools.

Now, with Tatum's departure, the recruiting picture becomes front and center just as much as finding his replacement.

President Swender will form a search committee and begin that process immediately. According to Athletic Director Dennis Harp, the group will conduct an internal search first. That means that candidates will come from Tatum's current staff. The school intends to end that internal search on Tuesday, and if a successor is not found from that group, then they will open it up to a national search.

It would seem prudent, and certainly the hope, that a qualified coach can be found sooner rather than later. Any coach that gets hired just a couple of weeks before signing day will understand that he's behind the proverbial eight-ball in securing recruits who have been sought by the current staff.

That's why the internal search may prove to be critical and beneficial.

Tatum's two coordinators — offensive guru Matt Miller and defensive boss Lou West — oversaw the master plan that Tatum had put in place.

Miller has a strong pedigree, having been the starting quarterback at Kansas State University in 1995 and then serving as an assistant to Bill Snyder for 10 seasons. That 1995 Wildcat team went 10-2, finishing ranked in the top 10 for the first time in school history. A California native, Miller was hired by Tatum after being away from the sidelines for five seasons.

West, too, has a lengthy résumé. He has been a head coach at Indiana State, with various positions held at Toledo, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati, Kansas, Western Michigan, Minnesota and Arizona.

Anybody knows, especially a head coach, that success comes only when you have assembled a quality team of players, but just as importantly, a quality staff of coaches. That was evident throughout the 2012 season.

Will Miller or West be the next Buster head coach? We'll know sometime soon. If so, local GCCC fans will hope that they will continue the rebuilding process that was started by Tatum. If it is somebody else, then the hope remains the same for the new Busters' boss.

Bob Larson, then the GCCC athletic director, was chiefly responsible for Tatum's hire. Tatum had been one of his assistants in 1999. He rolled the dice, and the Busters' program came away as the winner.

It's never a good time when a coach steps down to take another job elsewhere. And that's certainly the case here. But you can't fault Tatum for going back to where his football career was launched. As another famous Kansan once said, "there's no place like home."

The community should send Tatum and his wife, Dawn, off to the South with a heartfelt thank you for a job well done.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com.

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